ISSUE No. 16 | December 2021
If you’re new to CULTIVARE we welcome you! CULTIVARE is a monthly field guide for life and faith, brought to you by TEND. Each month we explore a specific “field” – a topic or theme through which we seek to cultivate contemplation, engagement, and deeper understanding. Our guiding questions are:
What are you cultivating in your life?
What fruit do you want your life to bear?
Each issue of CULTIVARE is structured into three parts:
Cultivate: Examines a specific “Field” or facet of life and offers questions to unearth and challenge our held perspective; along with concise kernels of truth which we call “Seeds.”
Irrigate: Explores the ways we nurture our understanding, which varies from individual to individual. We offer six means of irrigation: Art, Poetry, Profile, Film, Essay, and Books.
Germinate: Encourages practical ways to engage in becoming more fruitful and free in our lives.
Our name, CULTIVARE, in Spanish means “I will cultivate.” We hope each issue of our field guide will encourage you to do just that – cultivate new thoughts, actions, faith, hope, and fruitful living. We invite you to dig in and DIG DEEP!
For we are partners working together for God, and you are God's field.
(I Corinthians 3:9)
Our theme this month is WONDER. Have you ever been awestruck? Have you ever been seized by a striking observation that left you breathless? Been captured by a new thought that left you dumbstruck? Been amazed by a feeling of deep questioning? The flash of a new insight? Have you ever wondered about wonder?
Wonder is one of those uncommon words that is both a noun and a verb. Wonder is a very real thing and a truly authentic feeling caused by certain experiences. When we reflect on the Christmas story, we are struck by the genuine wonder that so many individuals experienced at the time of Christ’s birth. Mary – how God spoke to her and what God birthed through her. Joseph – waking from a dream with an instructive and encouraging word. The three wise men – the revelation of the birth of a promised king. The Shepherds tending their flocks at night – beholding a guiding star.
O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect Light.
Wonder has the unique quality and power to illuminate. Illuminate truth. Reveal insights. Shine a light on unasked questions. Spotlight longings and needs. If we slow down and take stock, all of life is exploding with wonder. Wonder draws us to look upward, inward, outward, and onward. In this often-hectic holiday season that can lead us to distraction, we hope this issue will encourage you to slow down, give attention, and be captured by wonder. What are you wondering about? (DG)
Therefore once more I will astound these people
with wonder upon wonder;
the wisdom of the wise will perish,
the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.
(Isaiah 29:14 NIV)
All who heard the shepherds were impressed.
Mary kept all these things to herself,
holding them dear, deep within herself. (Luke 2:19 MSG)
As soon as all the people saw Jesus,
they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. (Mark 9:15 NIV)
A handful of quotes to contemplate and cultivate into your life
The world will never starve for want of wonders, but for want of wonder. (G. K. Chesterton)
I think us here to wonder, myself. To wonder. To ask. And that in wondering bout the big things and asking bout the big things, you learn about the little ones, almost by accident. But you never know nothing more about the big things than you start out with. The more I wonder, the more I love. (Alice Walker)
We are an impossibility in an impossible universe. (Ray Bradbury)
The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction. (Rachel Carson)
It is not easy to convey a sense of wonder, let alone resurrection wonder, to another. It’s the very nature of wonder to catch us off guard, to circumvent expectations and assumptions. Wonder can’t be packaged, and it can’t be worked up. It requires some sense of being there and some sense of engagement. (Eugene Peterson)
That's the whole problem with science. You've got a bunch of empiricists trying to describe things of unimaginable wonder. (Bill Watterson)
Children live in a world of dreams and imagination, a world of aliveness… There is a voice of wonder and amazement inside all of us; but we grow to realize we can no longer hear it, and we live in silence. It isn’t that God stopped speaking; it is that our lives became loud.
There are a whole lot of things in this world of ours you haven’t started wondering about yet. (Roald Dahl)
Do not spoil the wonder with haste. (J.R.R. Tolkien)
Architecture, of all the arts, is the one which acts the most slowly,
but the most surely, on the soul.
The Sagrada Familia Basilica
On December 8, 2021 the skyline of Barcelona, Spain, will be transformed when a newly completed tower at the Sagrada Familia Basilica is illuminated. The 12-point star (photo above) will be lit up for the first time that evening.
If you are unfamiliar with the extraordinary work of art that is the Sagrada Familia (Spanish for “Sacred Family”), it is an architectural wonder. It is a one-of-a kind church – for its origins, foundation, and purpose. It is the work and legacy of genius architect Antoni Gaudi. One of the longest construction projects in the history of the modern world, construction continues today on the Basilica, 135 years since the laying of the cornerstone.
Gaudi was an architect ahead of his time. A man of deep faith, an astute observer of nature, and a genius architect, Gaudi has become a revered figure in modern architecture. His thinking and vision broke all the established rules. He designed never-before-seen structural systems, creating his own style using unprecedented methodology. Many contemporary architects view Gaudi as being ahead of his time by at least a century. Gaudi and his masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia, are known worldwide. Though he died nearly 100 years ago, Gaudi’s genius and legacy are more vibrant today than ever. Gaudi was a true creator, who sought to give glory to the ultimate Creator and the marvel of God’s creation. Gaudi wrote that: The creation continues incessantly through the media of man.
We celebrate the completion of the Tower of the Virgin Mary this month, the illumination of the 12-point star, and the wonder of Gaudi’s genius and unfolding masterpiece which began with the construction of the Nativity Entrance (see below). We look forward to the hoped-for completion of the Basilica in 2026 – marking 100 years since Gaudi’s passing.
You can learn more about the Sagrada Familia and architect Antoni Gaudi by exploring this 13-minute episode from CBS’s 60 Minutes entitled: God’s Architect: Antoni Gaudi’s Glorious Vision. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnNwpmdWm1w
I Wonder as I Wander
John Jacob Niles
I wonder, as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Savior had come for to die
For poor orn'ry creatures like you and like I
I wonder as I wander out under the sky
When Mary birthed Jesus, 'twas in a cow's stall
With wisemen and farmers and shepherds and all
And high in the heavens a star's light did fall
'Twas the promise of the ages, it then did recall
If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing
Like a star in the sky, or a bird on the wing
Or all of God's angels in heaven for to sing
Well, he surely could have had them, for he was their King
I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Savior had come for to die
For poor orn'ry creatures like you and like I
I wonder as I wander, out under the sky.
St. Simon The Tanner
By Billy Brummel
This month’s profile is of Simon the Tanner, a saint in the Coptic Orthodox Church who lived in the 10th century AD in Cairo, Egypt. While not much is known about his life, the one event for which he is known is so wonder-full we could not resist sharing his story.
At that time Egypt was under Islamic rule; the leader, Al-Muizz, was known for his love of debate with other religious leaders. He had a Jewish advisor who was familiar with the verse from the Gospels: “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to the mountain move from here to there, and it will move.” This advisor urged Al-Muizz to confront the head of the Coptic church, Pope Abraam, with this verse, challenging him to prove it’s truth. So, Al Muizz told Abraam to move the mountain outside Cairo called Mokattam or he would exterminate the Christians in Cairo. Pope Abraam asked for a 3 day respite to gather with all the local church leaders to pray and fast for this miracle.
On the dawn of the 3rd day, the Virgin Mary appeared to Pope Abraam in a dream and told him to find a one-eyed man in the market carrying a sack of water-- this would be the man to move the mountain. The man that Mary was referring to was Simon the Tanner. He removed his own eye after catching himself looking lustfully at a woman because of the verse: “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” The sacks of water he carried were part of his daily routine of taking water to the sick and the old before he commenced with his daily tanner’s duties. Abraam found Simon in the market and, though Simon was reluctant, he agreed to help when Abraam disclosed the origin of his charge.
At the appointed hour, the Coptic Christians marched en masse to the base of Mount Mokattam where Simon the Tanner directed Pope Abraam to lead those gathered in a mass; the people recited the Kyrie Eleison (“Lord Have Mercy”) after him. As the pope made the sign of the cross three times over the whole mountain, the Copts knelt three times in prayer, and each time the mountain moved a little. After the third kneeling, the mountain rose far enough for all gathered to see the sun shining between the base of the risen mountain and the land below! Al-Muizz stood in wonder at what had transpired, and the story says he converted to Christianity that day.
When Abba Abraam went to find Simon after the miracle at Mount Mokattam, Simon had disappeared. Nothing else is known of Simon the Tanner’s life after this day. Despite what little we do know of him, a man through whom God chose to reveal such wonder and power is worth our attention. We see that his life was one of humility and service – a good reminder for us, a people who have so many accessible ways to broadcast stories to the world that reaffirm our own worth, that the life through which God chooses to intervene in wondrous ways is one which may seem unremarkable but consists of “a long obedience in the same direction.”
This month, may we release the burden we’ve placed on ourselves of living outsized, “awesome” lives and instead embrace humility and consistency in the pursuit of God’s Kingdom and Righteousness in order that we may witness and partake in God’s enacting of new wonders. If you’re like me, prone to think these signs and wonders are for “next level Christians,” be encouraged by these words: Each is called to verify for himself what he has been taught, each is required to re-live the Tradition he has received. ‘The Creed,’ said Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, ‘does not belong to you unless you have lived it.’ No one can be an armchair traveler on this all-important journey. No one can be a Christian at second hand. God has children, but he has no grandchildren.”
Each month we recommend films focused on our theme
It's a Wonderful Life
It would be surprising if this holiday classic were new to any of our readers, but classics become classics for a reason. This film classic turns 75 this year! As we move towards “the most wonderful time of the year,” we invite you to re-watch the film with the theme of Wonder as your filter. It’s a Wonderful Life invites us to wonder over the lives God has given us, and the meaningful ways our lives affect the lives of others during this Christmas season.
My Octopus Teacher
Winner of this year’s Academy Award for Best Documentary. My Octopus Teacher began as a personal video project by South African filmmaker Craig Foster to rekindle his connection with nature by observing an inquisitive female mollusk while free diving near Cape Town. He filmed their interactions and became increasingly filled with wonder by how she could fashion tools from shells, furl herself in ribbons of kelp to avoid detection, outwit a pajama shark and adjust her hunting techniques to envelop crabs, lobsters and fish. Viewers even see her play.
Foster has commented that his relationship with the octopus taught him about life’s fragility and our connection with nature, helped him deal with depression, even teaching him to become a better father. Available on various streaming services.
Art and Awe as Healing
In this 2017 Ted Talk artist Jennifer Alison discusses the power of wonder and awe to serve as a healthy coping mechanism for her neurological condition – Sensory Processing Disorder. Jennifer acknowledges how decades of alcohol and drug dependency to curb being overwhelmed and isolated destroyed the meaningful aspects of her life – “a life without art is a life without awe and that is no life at all.” She identifies the ways that reconnecting with art and wonder anchored her to the outside world again saying: “Art lets me recapture that same sense of wonder that I felt as a kid when I explored the stars.”
Walking in Wonder Through Advent and Christmas
By Christine Sine
No season is more filled with awe and wonder than Advent and Christmas. Unfortunately, we live in a world of wonder deprivation, and many of us are so familiar with the Advent story that its inspirational nature no longer stirs us. What can we do to prepare and enable our families and congregations to really celebrate with awe and wonder Christ’s coming and the impact he has on our world?
The first key to preserving awe and wonder in our lives is to allow for silence, not the silence that comes from an absence of noise, but silentium--the silence of attentiveness towards God which we enter as we make space for and pay attention to our loving, awe-inspiring God. It is where we find breathing space for our souls and allow our imaginations to flourish.
The contemplative practice of lectio divina, with its encouragement to a listening kind of silence, opened my soul to awe and wonder once more. I invite you to set aside time during each week of Advent and Christmas for this practice which encourages us to sit quietly in the presence of God, deliberately shutting out the distractions of inner and outer noise, center ourselves on God, read scripture and listen contemplatively for what God’s spirit might say to us through our listening.
Get out into nature.
Nothing stirs our imaginations or inspires us with wonder like nature. You might plan a candlelight walk in your local park or forest during Advent, create an Advent spiral in your backyard or sit on the beach and watch the sunset while you tell the story of Christ’s birth and imagine the wonder of the heavenly angels bursting into the earthly realm singing joy to the world.
Take notice of the small beautiful things around you.
At Christmas we are often overwhelmed by the mass of goods we are encouraged to buy and consume, and we feel condemned by the encouragement to cut back and simplify. Encourage your family and congregations to reflect on the memories and memorabilia of Christmas past, those small and seemingly insignificant objects that make Christmas special. Plan a “make something” party to bring together family and friends in a fun-filled way. Cards, family photos and ornaments can spur attentive reflection and awe-inspiring moments.
Seek out what gives you goose bumps.
Wonder can be triggered by an unexpected smile, a helping hand on the bus, a mural on a wall. Think about what gives you goose bumps and talk to your congregations and families about what takes their breath away during Advent and Christmas. Look for those triggers around you. Discuss ways that these experiences could be nurtured and highlighted.
See the world differently.
In the Northern hemisphere Christmas conjures up images of snowy landscapes, Christmas carols by the fire and nativity scenes at church. For me, having grown up in Australia, it is about BBQs on the beach, long family vacations and hot summer days. We all need different perspectives to keep the story of Christmas alive and awe inspiring. Encourage your family and congregations to read about Christmas traditions in other countries, or to walk with a child through the Christmas tree lot and marvel at their perceptions and curiosity. Or, indulge in some Christmas baking and close your eyes and rejoice in the beauty of touch and smell. Then take the goodies to the local senior care facility or homeless shelter.
Slow down and take notice.
My husband Tom and I attend a performance of Handel’s Messiah each year just before Christmas. Listening to this music together is an inspiring way to drink in the wonder of Christmas once more. Or, you might like to take a day off from the season’s festivities and go away for a silent retreat.
What inspires you with wonder when you think about the birth of Christ? How might you use this to encourage yourself, your family and your congregation to discover this wonder once more?
For more thoughts and reflections about wonder, we encourage our readers to
explore Christine Sine’s inspiring book: The Gift of Wonder: Creating Practices for Delighting in God (2019).
Contemplative activist, passionate gardener, and author, Christine Sine loves inspiring Jesus followers to create spiritual practices that intertwine the sacred through all of life. She is the founder and facilitator for the popular contemplative blog godspacelight.com.
Each month we recommend a book (or two) focused on our theme
A Touch of Wonder
Nothing in life is more exciting and rewarding than the sudden flash of insight
that leaves you a changed person, not only changed, but for the better. (Arthur Gordon)
A Touch of Wonder is a book about looking and seeing. Gordon masterfully illuminates the reality that there is often more to life and to its commonplace occurrences than meets the eye. If we slow down and adopt eyes of wonder, we will find what we need to remain in love with life.
First published in 1974, the book is a collection of 40 short stories organized by eight “gifts” in life. These eight gifts include:
The Gift of Caring
The Gift of Shared Wisdom
The Gift of Self-Discovery
The Gift of Faith
The Gift of Bright Encounters
The Gift of Awareness
The Gift of Adaptability
The Gift of Life – And Beyond
Opening and reading A Touch of Wonder is like opening a treasure chest. There are surprises and delights contained within. Gordon’s collection of short stories is a true gift – reflecting a wealth of wonder, joy, and hope to all who read it.
Practical suggestions to help you go deeper into our theme
1. A FESTIVAL OF NINE LESSONS AND CAROLS
A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols has been performed at Kings College, Cambridge, since 1918, and made available over the radio since 1928. A tradition that originated for me from my choir director in college, my wife and I have found that along with a charcuterie board and a glass of wine, these Lessons and Carols infuse wonder to our Christmas Eve festivities. (JM)
2. SEVEN WAYS TO SPARK WONDER
Greg Levoy suggests, and we agree, “The sense of wonder speaks of our hunger to be moved”. Thus, this article suggests a variety of practical ways to help foster and renew wonder, to experience “being moved” in your day to day. We encourage you to choose one of the seven suggestions and practice it through the holiday season.
3. WONDERING WHY
In “Wondering Why” from First Things, Bill Goodwin reflects on the power of curiosity and the meaning embedded through asking questions. To wonder is, in part, to question and pursue new understanding, as G.K. Chesterton, science, and children remind us.
4. PUT THE AWE BACK IN AWESOME
In this Ted Talk given in NYC in July 2014, comedian Jill Shargaa takes to task the American propensity towards hyperbole, suggesting “not everything can be awesome.” This poignant, pithy, and punchy presentation questions our tendency to make everything “awesome” and seeks to restore the power of our experiences by differentiating between the meaningful and mundane.
5. “WONDER” – HILLSONG MUSIC
This worship song was written in 2017 with the expressed intent of infusing a sense of wonder back into the Christian lived experience. Inviting us to consider how we see life around us, Wonder (as articulated by lead band member Joel Houston) attempts “to elevate the conversation, re-awaken the soul to something other, and lift our eyes to the wonder of a superlative truth.”
But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.
(Jeremiah 17:7-8 NIV)
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Images used in order of appearance:
Hubble space images from Astronomy:
1. FIELD: Daniel Bonnell, Seeing Shepherds, 2011 https://bonnellart.com/
2. SEEDS: NGC 1300, NASA/ESA/ The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
3. ART: 12-Pointed Star, Tower of the Virgin Mary, Sagrada Familia Basilica, Barcelona,
4. POETRY: The Cigar Galaxy, NASA/ESA/The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
5. PROFILE: A depiction of the Moving of Mt. Mokattam at the Cave Church near Cairo.
Note the sun shining through from below the lifted mountain.
6. FILM: Star Cluster NGC 602, NASA/ESA/CXC and the U. of Potsdam/JPL-Caltech/STScI
7. ESSAY: Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich, Adoration of the Shepherds, 1760s, The Met,
NYC, New York.
8. BOOKS: The Ant Nebula, NASA/ESA/The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
9. DIG DEEPER: The Eagle Nebula, NASA/ESA/The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
10. ROOTED: Peter Nicholas Bercham, The Gospel Shepherds, 1650s.
TEAM CULTIVARE: Duane Grobman (Editor), Lori Andrews, Beth Bolsinger, Billy Brummel, Ben Hunter, Eugene Kim, Andrew Massey, Rita McIntosh, Jason Miller, Jason Pearson (Design: Pearpod.com)